UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger (KNIL]
Royal Dutch Indian Army

Besides the home army, Holland possesses a very considerable Colonial army which is commonly known as the Indian contingent. The Dutch colonizers referred to Indonesia as 'Nederlands Indi', 'Dutch India'), and the Dutch colonial army was the KNIL ( Royal Dutch Indian Army). This force garrisoned Java, Sumatra, and the other colonies in the East. This colonial army (leger) was an organism in no way connected with the national army of Holland. It always contained a proportion of one-third of Europeans to two-thirds of natives, excepting in the case of crack regiments, where this proportion is reversed. In the native companies the officers and a large number of the non-commissioned officers were Europeans ; in the artillery the gunners were always Europeans, while the drivers, &c., were natives.

The Dutch authorities found great difficulty in recruiting their army for the East Indies, and with the growth of prosperity this difficulty increased. There was a protracted early 19th century debate over building the strength of the colonial army (one contemporary source wrote that "for service in India, Negroes seem the very thing; they are sure not to fraternize with the natives. We shall recognize the wisdom of the Romans, who garrisoned each province with troops from a distance"]. The slaves were bought from the King of Ashanti. Between 1831 and 1872 Holland recruited approximately 3100 soldiers in West Africa, mostly from what is today Ghana and Burkina Faso. These soldiers fought in Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi, Bali, Timor and Aceh. The Dutch were notorious slave traders, decades behind the UK in abolishing slavery.

The army which the Dutch maintained in their East Indian colonies was quite distinct from the home army of Holland. On their arrival the men are quartered in barracks, and the officers and married non-commissioned officers find houses at a moderate rent close by. The barracks consist not of single buildings but of many separate ones, so that the different races among the native troops may be kept distinct. Malays, Javanese, Madurese, Amboinese, Bugis, Macassarese, and the rest must all have separate buildings to themselves. Formerly there were Ashantees too, but the recruiting of these was stopped when the colony of St. George del Mina, on the Gold Coast, was transferred to England on the surrender of British claims in the north of Sumatra ; very good soldiers they were, but cruel in war, giving no quarter, and very difficult to restrain in the heat of action. The native troops are officered by Europeans, but the sergeants and corporals are always of the same race as the men under them.

By around 1900 the army of the East Indies numbered 13,000 Europeans and 17,000 natives, principally Malays of Java. Besides this regular garrison a Schutterij force is maintained in Java. It consisted of 4000 Europeans and 6000 natives. The Europeans were the planters and the members of the civil service. The natives were the retainers of some of the native princes, and the overseers and more responsible men employed on the European plantations. The total garrison of the Dutch East Indies was consequently a very considerable one, viewed by the light of its duties, but allowance had to be made for the interminable war in Atchin [Atjeh / Aceh], which kept several thousand men permanently engaged, and never seemed nearer an ending. The Aceh war was one of the longest and bloodiest in Dutch colonial history.

The only active service or practical experience of war which the Dutch army has had since the end of the struggle with Belgium was in the East Indies. The Lombock expedition of 1894 is still remembered for its losses and disasters, but on that occasion the Dutch displayed a fine spirit of fortitude under a reverse, and ended the campaign by bringing the hostile Sultan to reason. The long struggle with the Atchinese has been marked by heroism on both sides, and is evidence that the Dutch have not lost their old tenacity.

At the same time the Government found considerable difficulty in obtaining the requisite number of voluntary exiles to preserve its possessions in the Eastern Archipelago, and it may find itself obliged to reduce the effective strength of its garrison. Moreover, the hygienic conditions were still extremely unfavorable, and the rate of mortality among Europeans in Java and the Celebes was particularly high. By 1900 it may be no longer true, as was said with perhaps some exaggeration in the time of Marshal Daendels at the beginning of the 19th Century, that the European Dutch garrisons die out every three years, but the death-rate was certainly high and a considerable part of the garrison returns invalided by fever a very few months after its arrival in the East.

By around 1900 the garrison could not be maintained at its high strength but for the numerous volunteers who come forward for this well-paid service from Germany and Belgium. At one time these outside recruits became so numerous owing to the tempting offers made to them by the Dutch authorities that the two Governments interested presented formal protests against their proceedings. Germany had always been very sore on the subject of losing any of her soldiers, and Belgium had much need of all the men likely to serve abroad in the Congo State. There were still foreigners of the German and Belgian races in the Dutch Indian army, but any design of turning it into a Foreign Legion on the same model as that of the force which has served France so well in Algeria and her colonies has fallen through.

By 1915 the colonial army consisted of about one-quarter Europeans to three-quarters Natives, and comprised 31 battalions and 3 depot battalions of infantry, 4 machine-gun companies, 1 company of cyclist-soldiers, 5 squadrons, 1 depot squadron of cavalry, 4 field batteries, 4 mountain batteries, 10 fortress companies of artillery, and 4 field companies and 1 depot-company of engineering troops. In most battalions there are 4 companies composed of Europeans and Natives ; the officers, and a proportion of the non-commissioned officers, were Europcans. The artillery had Europran gunners and Native drivers. The Europeans and Natives were recruited by volunteers. The strength of th colonial army in 1915 was 1,285 officers and 37,041 men, of whom 8,557 were Europeans. There was also a small colonial reserve of both European and natives.

In 1918 compulsory service was introduced in the militia for Europeans between 19 and 32 years of age, and in the landstorm between the ages of 33 and 45. It is calculated that this will yield 25,000 men.

By 1922 the colouial army consisted of about one-quarter Europeans to three-quarters Natives, and comprises 32 battalions and 4 depot battalions of infantry, 4 machine-gun companies, 2 companies of cyclist-soldiers, 6 squadrons, 1 depfit squadron of cavalry, 6 field batteries, 3 mountain batteries, 2 howitzer batteries, 4 motor batteries, 2 fortress and coast-companies of artillery, 3 field companies, 1 motor-car company, 1 railway and telegraph company, and 1 depot-company of engineering troops, and a flying corps with 25 officers and 40 aeroplanes. The Netherlands Navy in the East Indies numbered 229 officers and 1,215 European and 1,441 native non-commissioned officers and sailors, and consisted of 30 men-of-war, many of them old and unserviceable. There was, besides, the Colonial Navy, consisting of 22 smaller ships of no naval value, with 173 Europeans and 811 natives, employed for civil service duties.

In 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria, crushed Chinese resistance, and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo. In response to continued Japanese moves in China and Indochina, the US cut off all oil to Japan in 1941. This placed key factions in the Japanese government in an untenable position, and they decided to seize the oil-rich Netherlands East Indies (NEI). The first Japanese landing came on 17 December 1941 near Miri in the Sarawak province of Borneo. With the virtual elimination of Allied air and naval capability, Java lay open to invasion and the Japanese wasted no time. In the predawn darkness of 1 March 1942, Japanese Sixteenth Army units landed at three points on the north coast of the 650-mile-long island.

The struggle against Japan lasted until 7 March 1942, when the Dutch commander-in-chief was forced to capitulate. Japan swiftly took control of Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, the Philippines, and less consequential Western possessions. It also achieved a dominant relationship with a quasi-independent Thailand. These were impressive conquests, rich in raw materials that Japan badly needed. In practice, however, the Empire was unsuccessful in exploiting them. Because of bureaucratic ineptness and military rivalries in the new territories, Tokyo was never able to establish a workable administration. Nor, by and large, did it gain the loyalty of peoples who rightly surmised that they were exchanging one set of rulers for another.

The Japanese occupation during WW II helped Indonesia build a strong military, but also brought soldiers into political life. The Dutch colonialist armed forces, Koninklijke Nederlands-Indische Leger (KNIL) had only allowed a few Indonesians to become officers. The highest Indonesian officers before 1940 were of the rank of Major. The Japanese organized various military groups like the Defenders of Fatherland (PETA), pioneer front, Seinendan, Keibodan, Heiho, and Boei, and these groups were led by local leaders. Thus, when the Japanese surrendered to the allies on August 15, 1945, they left behind several local military forces in Indonesia. After the Japanese surrendered in 1945, civilian politicians still advocated cooperation with the Dutch colonial government, which did not satisfy military leaders, who preferred armed struggle to gain Indonesianfreedom from the Dutch.

V-J Day, 15 August 1945, marked the end of World War II but not the end of military operations for the Netherlands-Indies army. The Dutch colonial conflict inIndonesia (1947-1949), which ended with the independence of the former Dutch colony in 1949. By 1948 the Dutch Army was estimated as about 120,000 men, well armed and equipped. Major units were equivalent to brigade combat groups. Eleven of these were in Java, including an armored one with American equipment; 3 combat groups were in Sumatra. The Dutch Navy and Air Force maintained a close blockade.

Products of this very rich area were supposed to be exported through the Dutch, and in general this was being done. What the natives wanted was a lifting of the blockade and the right to sell their products to any customer nation without requiring them to pass through Dutch hands. The Dutch were going ahead with forming a United States of Indonesia where the natives had local autonomy, but where the real power, including foreign relations and public defense, was under Dutch control. The independent Indonesia government, located in Java with CP at Jakarta, refused to go along with the Dutch, as it demanded complete independence. A "Round Table Conference" resulted in the acquisition of complete independence by the young Republic of Indonesia.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:02:54 ZULU